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Too Much Johnson

00:00 Introduction by Anthony L'Abbate, Preservation Manager, Moving Image Department and Caroline Yeager, Associate Curator, Moving Image Department
06:44 Too Much Johnson

Too Much Johnson (US 1938)
Director: Orson Welles
Cinematographer: Harry Dunham
Cast: Joseph Cotten (Augustus Billings), Edgar Barrier (Leon Dathis), Arlene Francis (Clairette Dathis), Virginia Nicholson (Lenore Faddish), Ruth Ford (Mrs. Augustus Billings), Mary Wickes (Mrs. Upton Battison), Eustace Wyatt (Francis Faddish), Guy Kingsley (Henry MacIntosh), George Duthie (Purser)
Production company: Mercury Theatre Company

Length (in feet): 5,932 ft.
Length (in reels): 10
Sound: silent
Color: black & white
Running time: 65 min.

Preserved with funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation and the Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia
Preserved at Cinema Arts Laboratory and Haghefilm Digitaal
Digitized by Eastman Film Preservation Services

The piano accompaniment for this online presentation was composed and performed by Philip C. Carli.

The announcement that Orson Welles’s missing (and unfinished) film Too Much Johnson had been found and preserved, sent a pleasant shock wave through cinema circles in 2013. Discovered with a group of other film materials in a warehouse in Pordenone, Italy, in 2003, Too Much Johnson survived by a quirk of fate. Mario Catto, an enthusiastic cinephile who often collaborated with Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (a film festival devoted solely to screening silent films), was told by a family friend about a crate full of potentially dangerous old film that had been abandoned years before in his shipping warehouse. Catto suggested that his friend donate it to Cinemazero, a highly regarded film society in Pordenone. Cinemazero accepted the films and began the laborious and years-long task of examining and identifying the mixture of 35mm and 16mm film elements on both safety and nitrate based film stocks. The films turned out to be the works of Orson Welles.

Prominent Welles scholar Ciro Giorgini positively identified nine nitrate reels as being Welles’s lost film Too Much Johnson. A tenth nitrate reel was decomposing and it was not actually verified as being part of the film until it was sent to a laboratory for preservation in 2013. Cinemazero recognized that the nitrate reels of Too Much Johnson needed long-term conservation, and so, nearly ten years after Catto first saw the crate, the nitrate positive work print of Too Much Johnson was consigned to their colleagues at the Cineteca del Friuli, also in Pordenone. Preserving Too Much Johnson now became the crucial issue.

Because the film was both nitrate and American, funding for full preservation would prove difficult to obtain in Italy. In January 2013, Cineteca del Friuli contacted the George Eastman Museum to discuss preserving Too Much Johnson, as well as providing permanent conservation for the 35mm nitrate master. The Eastman Museum agreed to accept the nitrate film and through an emergency grant arranged by the National Film Preservation Foundation, the nine identified reels of Too Much Johnson would be preserved. The tenth, decomposing reel, was preserved separately and joined the other reels prior to the film’s world premiere.

Produced by the Mercury Theatre, Too Much Johnson was meant to introduce each act of William Gillette’s stage play of the same name. Even in its unfinished state, the film shows all the hallmarks of Welles’s cinematic genius. Starring Joseph Cotten, Edgar Barrier, Arlene Francis and other Mercury Theatre actors, it is a lively, vibrant, funny, and exciting homage to silent film comedy and stands on its own as a cinematic gem. The new score provided by Philip C. Carli, was inspired by Paul Bowles’s score for the Mercury Theatre stage production.